Detail of illustration by Elin Matilda from Brooke Hill’s You Two, You Two

It’s a question we are asked often – how do I find the right illustrator for my picture book manuscript?

Well, it all depends on what avenue you’re heading down. Traditional publishing route? Don’t worry. Publishers will find the person whose artwork they believe will best compliment your words. You’ll have little to no control over the look and feel of your book, but that’s okay – trust that your publisher knows precisely what’s needed for a successful publication. For the most part you’ll be kept well away from the illustrative process and your editor will be the intermediary. This is difficult and even a little emotionally challenging for some writers. Your book is your baby, right? Letting go will make your book the best it can be – go with the process rather than fighting it. One less thing for you to worry about is what we often tell authors. Royalties this way will be split.

What if you are illustrating for yourself? A publisher will still want to read the work as text before they look at your images. They may decide the story is strong and that your pictures are the right style, the correct fit. But brace yourself because they may not, no matter how wonderful your artwork is! Remember that trusting in the knowledge and expertise of your editor will result in stronger sales. And sales, well, sales are what every author is aiming for in the end.

Self-publishing is a completely different experience, and one you’ll have far more control over. You get to choose who you work with, whose imagery speaks a similar language to your text. It’s fun, it’s rewarding and it’s also quite a bit of work.  

Start by looking at the successful books most aligned to yours that are already in the market. Look at the images. What do you like and dislike? Make notes. Google the illustrator/s you find yourself most drawn to and see how versatile they are. Then reach out to ask questions like how much will it cost, how quickly they can fit you in, how they work and if they can give you examples of their work. Be professional at all times when engaging an illustrator and be honest about how much you’re prepared to pay for the job. 

Just as a traditional publishing house does, try to allow the illustrator to develop the illustrations in a slightly hands-off way. Their input will give other layers to your book, things you hadn’t imagined possible. You’ll need to negotiate a price you’re both happy with. They may ask for money in advance, which is common. It’s important to remember that traditionally, royalties are split, which reflects the value of the role of the illustrator. Negotiate upfront, but err towards generosity – they’re not called picture books for nothing!